This month we spoke to Liveryman Phil Andrew, the chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, the largest specialist provider of free and independent debt advice in the UK, with over 1,500 colleagues supporting 620,000 people a year with problem debt.
What did you want to do when you were growing up?
I just wanted to do what I enjoyed! When I did my degree, I could have gone and done International Business or something similar, but I chose to do a degree in Glaciology. And the reason I did this was because it was absolutely fascinating to me. It allowed me to wander around on Icelandic glaciers for three years and then come out of it with a BSc.
But soon after that, I realised I probably needed to focus less on enjoying myself all the time, and follow my father's advice, which was: “If you ever want to be in a position where you’re never unemployed, become an accountant!”
So that’s what I did because I felt it was quite important for me to make decent money in my early career. I'm now able to balance the need to make enough money to get my children through university with my desire to make a social difference.
When and why did you join the marketing profession?
When I was based in Russia with British American Tobacco, I spoke to my boss and he told me that they’d like me to become a Country General Manager. I was thrilled to be offered this opportunity but the problem was that I was an accountant, and as a tobacco organisation, they were a marketing and distribution company first and foremost. So, it was clear that if I wanted to progress out of finance and into general management, I needed to get myself some proper marketing qualifications. For a year I would fly once every eight weeks from Moscow to Heathrow and do my marketing qualifications at Moor Hall.
It was a big commitment, but I knew I’d get to become a chief executive of a large organisation overseas afterwards – I just needed to get the qualification first. It was quite a good motivator!
Do you regard marketing as a profession?
Oh, absolutely. It's very much a misunderstood profession; it can sometimes have a little bit of a soft reputation. But I think once you realise just how much science and psychology is behind it, there's no doubt that it's a profession.
If I was to compare it with my career in accountancy, I think it’s fair to say that once you’ve achieved Chartered Marketer status, it's quite easy to keep it. You're not under day to day compliance scrutiny in the same way as accountancy. But you have to take both professions seriously.
Who is your marketing hero and why?
If we’re talking about chief executives who’ve used marketing to extraordinary effects, I think you can go as far back as Henry Ford. He was extraordinary. He’s not beyond reproach, of course; he had some sharp business practices, but it doesn't alter the fact that he took on a market where things were too expensive for the average man and began creating ways to match prices to aspirations. And so the mass industrialised manufacturing structure was born. This concept of marketing was completely new, and it was an extraordinary achievement.
In your marketing career, what has been your most significant achievement?
A lot of the work that we’re doing at StepChange at the moment is very important from a marketing perspective. As the UK’s largest debt advice charity, what we’re trying to do is get people to engage with the process earlier and more quickly. We have about 620,000 people a year seeking advice from us. And the most common thing that we say to people is that we wish they’d come to us earlier.
We're in a position at the moment where there's probably 3 million people who need our advice; and given the current situation, this may increase to somewhere around 6 million in the near future. We're looking at a new COVID payment plan at the moment, and the marketing around that is really complicated and really nuanced. It’s very powerful work we're doing at the moment in an environment where the need is enormous but opinions vary greatly and not many people are offering solutions.
What are the major challenges facing marketing professionals today?
The biggest challenge now is exactly what it has been in the past: being taken seriously. People often mistake marketing for advertising, which in itself is quite a complicated game. But I think it has a branding problem in its own right which needs significant work. It’s often seen as some form of second class qualification or profession, which is enormously unfair. And I think it can also suffer from a kind of traditional elitism from the more established professions.
When and why did you join the Worshipful Company of Marketors?
I became a member when I did my charted marketing exams, to be honest still to this day I have absolutely no idea how it happened! I was presented with a student award by Lord Heseltine, and afterwards a very esteemed member of the Company. Sally Muggeridge, approached me to join the Marketors. That was quite a long time ago; about 12 or 13 years, and here I am!
I joined the Company because people who asked me to join seemed very interesting, and I particularly like tradition and the concepts of historical hierarchy. But the Marketors also gives me a degree of professional safety. At work almost everyone wants something, with Marketors I can have fascinating discussions without sub textual agendas!
And when you're talking to other members, they’re just interested in talking on a peer to peer basis about how things are done and how things can be done better, and it's enormously refreshing.
What role do you see the Marketors playing in the City?
I think it's one of perspective. Everything that’s happening in the City at the moment is done in very short order, very often lurching from quarterly earnings statement to quarterly earnings statement. Of course, you have the City livery movement, which is over 1000 years old. Nearly all of the difficulties and problems that we see now, whilst they may be differently framed, have been dealt with by people in the past – often hundreds of years ago. And so there's a very important perspective element there that shows there's no such thing as a new problem. Creating that perspective, and then getting a group of highly experienced marketing professionals to give perspective, is really key and important.
Who should consider joining the Marketors and what does the company offer them?
Anyone who wants to be in the company of people who have very interesting ideas from a marketing and a more general business perspective. It’s perfect for anyone who wants mentoring on these areas of specialism, as well as anyone who wants a safe place to be able to discuss marketing best practice and meet really interesting people.
What is your standout Marketors moment from the past 12 months?
I really enjoyed the installation of Lesley as the new Master. It’s absolutely great to have someone with her passion and drive in the organisation and, given what she's immediately been hit with in terms of this pandemic, I think she's done an absolutely fantastic job. We couldn't have a better person for the job at the current time!
Phil Andrew is the chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, the largest specialist provider of free and independent debt advice in the UK, with over 1,500 colleagues supporting 620,000 people a year with problem debt. Phil was previously the chief executive of Working Links which provides innovative interventions to disadvantaged and socially-excluded groups within the UK, Ireland and the Middle East. He has also held a number of senior positions in the UK and France including Chief Executive for Sodexo Justice Services and Chief Financial Officer for Sodexo UK and Ireland and worked in a number of international businesses based in the UK, Ireland, Asia and Russia.